It’s time to get spring-cleaning. But wait! Before you reach for the conventional array of household cleaning products, think about what you are using in your home. Many of the products on the market include unpleasant additives and are loaded with strong, artificial colours, fragrances and harsh cleansing agents like bleach, ammonia and acids. These chemicals produce indoor air pollution by giving off toxic fumes that can irritate eyes and lungs. Children and pets are most at risk. Many cleaners also contain antibacterial agents (technically they are pesticides), that can actually make bacteria more resistant. And the large amounts of phosphates in most commercial detergents nourish algae which use up the oxygen in our waterways and disrupt the natural environment. Commercial cleaners cost a lot too.
If this makes you at all worried, then make your own! Even the biggest messes and toughest stains can be dealt with effectively using vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, borax and other simple ingredients. Here are some common, environmentally safe products, all easily available in Harare, which can be used alone or in combination.
Baking soda cleans and deodorizes, softens water and is useful for cleaning tiles and kitchen counter tops. Sprinkle some onto the surfaces and then wipe off with a damp cloth or sponge. If you have tougher stains, mix baking soda and water into a paste, add a little salt to make it more abrasive, and let it set for a while before wiping off. This method works well for stainless steel sinks, cutting boards, containers, refrigerators, oven tops…the list goes on. For safer oven cleaning, mix up a paste of baking soda and water, apply to the inside of the oven, let it stand overnight then wipe off.
Lemon juice is one of the strongest natural food acids, smells good and is effective against most household bacteria. Mix equal parts of lemon juice and warm water and spray onto bathroom tiles or shower doors, wait ten minutes and wipe off with a clean, damp cloth. It’s also good for cleaning chopping boards in the kitchen as it gets rid of cooking smells like fish or onion and helps prevent mould and mildew.
Dried lemon peels are a natural moth deterrent. Simply toss some into clothes cupboards, or tie them in cheesecloth with some dried lavender. It also makes a great furniture polish for wood. Mix equal parts lemon juice and olive oil and wipe on with a soft cloth. Add a few sprigs of mint, rosemary or lavender for a lovely scent.
White vinegar cuts grease, removes mildew, odours, stains and wax build-up. Mix 2 tablespoons of white vinegar with a litre of water, and squirt on using a spray bottle. Wipe with old newspaper, not paper towels, and your windows and mirrors will be clean and streakfree. For carpet stains mix equal parts white vinegar and water and spray directly onto the stain, let stand for a few minutes and then clean with a brush or sponge using warm soapy water. Coffee and tea stains in cups can be removed by applying vinegar to a sponge and wiping. To clean a kettle or coffee maker, add 2 cups water and 1/4 cup vinegar and boil. Let cool, wipe with a clean cloth and rinse thoroughly with water. Most floor surfaces can be easily cleaned using a solution of vinegar and water. Mix one part white vinegar and four parts warm water. Add a few drops of peppermint oil or any scented oil of your choice for added freshness. This works equally well for wooden floors, ceramic tiles and vinyl or linoleum floors.